Out of all the rides at the Disney Parks, Haunted Mansion has always been one that fans have wanted a theatrical feature made out of. After the 2003 film, these dreams were lost on many fans of the attraction - but now, 20 years on and after years of trying to get a new version made, it's time for a second take on bringing the iconic spooky attraction back to the big screen (and hopefully with more success results).
When Gabbie (Rosario Dawson, 'Clerks III', 'Zombieland: Double Tap') and her son Travis (Chase Dillon, 'The Harder They Fall') move to New Orleans, they unexpectedly become owners of a 'Haunted Mansion'. Their home has 999 happy haunts, but the Hatbox Ghost (Jared Leto, 'Morbius', 'House of Gucci') is looking for one more. Gabbie enlists the help of Father Kent (Owen Wilson, 'Marry Me', 'The French Dispatch') who then turns to paranormal tour guide Ben Matthias (LaKeith Stanfield, 'Judas and the Black Messiah', 'Knives Out'), psychic Harriet (Tiffany Haddish, 'The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent', 'Girls Trip'), and college historian Bruce Davis (Danny DeVito, 'Dumbo', 'Jumanji: The Next Level'). Together they tap into the ghost world along with the help of Madame Leota (Jamie Lee Curtis, 'Everything Everywhere All at Once', 'Halloween' franchise) to get to the bottom of the haunts.
As Disney's second attempt at 'Haunted Mansion', this somehow outdoes the 2003 film with just how bland and outbalanced it is. At least the Eddie Murphy venture knew it was a comedy - a bad one - but 2023's 'Mansion' just tries to throw everything at the wall and fails with every genre it tries to tackle. It of course attempts to have horror elements, but it's both too much for the family demographic while also not being scary enough for older viewers, thus appealing to neither demographic. The audience I saw it with only had one family in the screening and they left the screening after a few of the horror moments. While the ensemble cast is solid none of the comedy works and, for some reason, the film tries to be deep and meaningful about loss and grief but comes across as heartless. The film's cameos also are bewildering and add nothing, other than free Buzzfeed press. Dan Levy (TV's 'Schitt's Creek', 'Happiest Season') is doing something that is just from an entirely different film and is so pointless. Winona Ryder (Netflix's 'Stranger Things', 'Edward Scissorhands') also shows up for some reason, and I felt just as clueless as she apparently was when on set.
'Haunted Mansion's' scariest moments are the product placements, each one getting more and more spooky. From Amazon vanilla candles, sage from Costco (for the séance), Burger King's Jalapeño Poppers, the house being purchased on Zillow, pen and paper (brought for ghosts to leave messages, of course) brought from CVS, and a child setting up Monopoly: Marvel Comics Edition to play with no one. The worst is when Ben breaks down crying about his dead wife, who died on her way to get Baskin Robbins ice cream. I hope these product placements at least gave these actors some sweet, sweet coin.
It of course attempts to have horror elements, but it's both too much for the family demographic while also not being scary enough for older viewers, thus appealing to neither demographic.
The film also feels like it wants to have all these references to the ride but also remove itself from it. This is coming from someone who hasn't even stepped foot in a Disney Park, but somehow the references feel like fun fan service and pandering all at the same time. The 2003 film at least took characters and locations and made them a part of the world; 2023's reimagining feels like they are here to appeal to fans rather than being a fun addition. And again, as someone who hasn't been on the ride, there were some really glaring omissions that could have been here to add a bit more fun and excitement to the film.
The film attempts to be an ensemble piece and with this cast, in theory, that sounds like an enjoyable time, but none of them have anything to do. It's great to see these actors together but it feels so wasteful. The "haunts" of the film are so lacklustre that it never really feels like there are presences haunting this house. When we do get to see ghosts, they are just a mix of CGI blobs or people in makeup covered in CGI with no weight behind them. The rules of the ghosts are also confusing: some we can see in plain sight and have conversations with, but others we have this contrived plot point that they need to be photographed - on a Fujifilm camera, of course.
On a second ride around, 'Haunted Mansion' shows a lot of potential as a Disney film based on an iconic theme park ride, but misses its mark. It tries to be everything but fails because of it. Don't hop on board this Doom Buggy; there are no "Grim Grinning Ghosts coming out to socialise". But do remember if you are going to speak to the dead, get your candles from Amazon, your pens and paper from CVS, and sage from Costco.